This false analogy intentionally misses the point. As the Supreme Court reasoned this last term when evaluating the rights of the Westboro Baptist Church demonstrators, although they shouted grievously hurtful things to families of fallen military, speech on “public issues” in the United States is “entitled to special protection.” The UCI 11 stomped on speech in this important domain occupying “the highest rung of the hierarchy of First Amendment values.” The analysis would be different, and the remedy likely an administrative one, if the hecklers were blocking a routine chemistry lecture.
In addition to constitutional civil rights violations, a state statute also provided the student protestors notice as to the criminal nature of their actions: “Every person who, without authority of law, willfully disturbs or breaks up any assembly or meeting that is not unlawful in its character ... is guilty of a misdemeanor.”
Furthermore, California courts have developed tests for determining when disturbances are likely punishable. The legal analysis as expressed in In re Kay entails whether the subject “substantially impaired the conduct of the meeting by intentionally committing acts” and “violated implicit customs or usages or of explicit rules for governance of the meeting, of which he knew, or as a reasonable man should have known.” Not only were the students informed of the UCI campus meeting policies but multiple warnings were issued that evening before the students were arrested for their disruptive conduct.
Islamist activists have refined the scheme of pressing grievances to an advanced art form, working to carve out legal concessions that give them a kind of super-minority status. Again, this plan to silence disfavored speech – like the silencing of cartoonist Molly Norris and the prior restraint on Terry Jones’ Dearborn speech -- with the aggressive defense of the thuggish behavior, reveals a disturbing agenda.
If, by this tragic perversion of expressive rights the UCI 11 had succeeded, verbal terrorism would have prevailed. Our system of ordered liberty recognizes individual rights within a social construct that also equally respects the rights of others. Kudos to the Orange County District Attorney.
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